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When the topic of self-love comes up, the discussion often veers towards building a meditation practice, finding an exercise program that works for you, and, yes, guzzling a green juice. But what about sex?
According to Maude co-founders Eva Goicochea and Dina Epstein, healthy sex is the greatest expression of self-love. Maude has been dubbed the “Everlane of sex products”—and for good reason. For one, Goicochea used to run social media, culture and talent at Everlane. And like Everlane’s commitment to transparency and to the environment, the brand’s streamlined offering of condoms, lube, a vibrator and a candle that burns into massage oil, is thoughtfully and beautifully designed in terms of both environmental impact and aesthetic.
Goicochea and Epstein, who are very close friends outside of the office (and have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences) invited The Frontlash into their Williamsburg space to talk about the importance of sexual health, thriving as female entrepreneurs, and their very own self-love practices.
Hey Maude team! Tell us all about yourselves and how Maude got its start.
Eva Goicochea: I went to FIT, where I studied advertising and then transferred to a college in Sacramento to finish my degree. While I was still in college I worked at a lobbying firm as a legislative aide, where I was delivering bill summaries in healthcare. Then I moved to LA, where I started working in marketing and social media. I ended up at Everlane and I met Dina while I was there. We met at this entrepreneurial camp, where I was moderating a discussion with Michael Preysman, the founder of Everlane. A few years later, I left Everlane with the idea to start my own company that merged healthcare and the startup world. I started working on Maude, but I didn’t know how to make the actual product. Someone suggested that I should call my friend Dina, who I knew as “the bag designer.” I didn’t know that she designed sex toys a long time ago.
Dina Epstein: I went to RISD for industrial design and became an industrial designer. I started working in fashion, first for Kiki de Montparnasse, and then I went to Doc Johnson, where I was making mass-market sex toys. I eventually started my own company, Clark & Madison, where I was designing luxury leather goods, primarily for travel. But when Eva approached me about Maude I was like, “We have to do it.”
Eva: Now, I’m the CEO and essentially, I run creative. We say that I do front-of-house.
Dina: And I do back-of-house. I’m the Chief Product Officer and everything on the operational side—including getting the product out the door—is my job.
Okay, what’s the story behind the name Maude?
Eva: Maude means strength in battle in German, which is a subversive nod to us taking on the industry. We also liked how it was a play on the word “modern.” Oh, and there was a TV show called “Maude” that Bea Arthur was in. Her character was an advocate for reproductive rights.
The brand is very modern—but totally functional.
Eva: Maude’s three major tenets are simplicity, quality, and inclusivity. Really, we’re just all about making products for people. When I started thinking about the industry we’re now in, I always wondered why there wasn’t a sex brand that talks to adults like adults. This was around 2015 or 2016 when all these brands in the personal care space were growing and startups were making other things in our daily lives easier—but none of those companies were doing both at the same time.
Inclusivity is definitely important. Tell us more about how Maude tackles that.
Dina: The lubricants are the easiest way to explain it. So we have an aloe-based lubricant, made with organic and all-natural materials, and a silicone-based lubricant. The silicone offers lasting hydration, so it’s good for non-vaginal sex.
Eva: Although, you can use silicone for vaginal sex! The thing is, a lot of people don’t know what they want. So we ask: do you want long-lasting?
Dina: Both our lubricants are gluten-free, sugar-free, hormone-free, glycerin-free, paraben-free, and they contain non-GMO and vegan-friendly ingredients. The silicone is hypoallergenic and is an FDA accepted medical device.
Eva: The inclusivity angle also comes into play with our marketing and messaging. We were hearing from people over 30 who felt like sex companies were marketing to college kids—not adults. It’s so sad, because the older you get, the better you know yourself. But if there are no options, it just perpetuates the frustration with sex.
Dina: You can also see that from a purely visual level like with Vibe, our vibrator. Ours is not garish pink, like a lot of them out there. It’s not purple or blue or black. It’s not categorized. It’s discreet—and it even looks like it could be a paperweight.
Eva: Plus, when you’re a female founder, especially in this industry, people automatically assume that you’re making an item for women. But our site traffic is actually 50/50 split by gender.
How does sustainability come into play?
Eva: Whenever possible, Maude uses sustainable materials and packaging. But one of the biggest things in this industry is that there’s not enough education around what is body-safe. A lot of products are not body-safe because they’re made with unregulated materials. All of our products are really body-safe, like our vibrator that is made with FDA grade silicone that’s non-porous. It also has a lot of domestic and international certifications, all of which we chose to get tested, though they are not required for a product of this nature. It’s not so much about sustainability, but more about making sure that people have access to products they understand.
Dina: There are a lot of companies out there now that make hybrid sex toys, but they don’t talk about how their items are part-plastic and part-silicone, or whatever the case is. A lot of those materials disintegrate over time, which is important to think about for something that you put into your body. People also keep products for way longer than they should, and a lot of this stuff does have a lifespan. You should get rid of those, recycle them, and get new products. For us, we don't overproduce and we try not to overdo anything. We want to make sure we're really thoughtful about the products that we put out.
Your products are so thoughtful that they have some "uh, duh!" features. Like Rise, your condoms that are packaged right-side-up in individual buttercups.
Dina: When talking to a lot of consumers or people in our surveys, they had the same “Uh, duh!” experience. Everybody has fumbled through opening a condom before, but nobody really talks about it. To be able to sit there and share horror stories is a really liberating experience. With Maude, it’s also, “Thank god, I don’t have to do that anymore!”
How does Maude, as a company, approach the topic of self-love?
Eva: Empowering our customers to feel comfortable is the whole point of what we’re doing. And not just in understanding the baseline of what your body is doing and how much that will change over time, but also being able to talk about it. For us, that is the act of self-love, the act of being honest with yourself and other people.
So, sex is a form of self-love?
Eva: Healthy sex is healthy, in so many ways. It's great for your heart rate, endorphins, and hormones. If you have a partner, everyone is getting these feel-good hormones out of it. When you have sex, you want to have sex. And when you don't have sex, you don't want to have sex. So it's really important to try and integrate it into your life in order for you to have that healthy balance.
Dina: And have sex with yourself, too! You don't have to have a partner to participate. Especially with our line of products, because we're not just for couples.
How do you care for each other, especially as co-founders?
Dina: We try to go out once a week to coffee. Sometimes we talk about work, but sometimes we don't.
Eva: We're also really good friends, like pretty much family. We bicker, we get along, and all the ups and downs in between. But we're pretty good about having fluidity and being real people outside of work.
Dina: And I think that's one of the main things. We do go for coffee because we need to talk about this business, but if it's not about work and it has to be about something else, that also affects what we bring in here, so we make sure to prioritize those things.
Eva: We also go for cocktails all the time. I like Hotel Delmano and the back bar at Wanpaku, which is called The Hidden Pearl. We also go to Goldie's all the time because I live in Greenpoint and Dina lives in East Williamsburg. And we like Maison Premiere.
What are your own personal self-love practices?
Eva: I have two rescue Shih Tzus and two rescue Persian cats. If I'm not thinking about Maude, I'm thinking about animals. Hopefully, one day I can retire and think about animals even more. I practice self-love by sitting with them, recognizing that they want to be loved and want to feel safe. That allows me to decompress, get out of my own world and be a more selfless person. If I could have a farm in Brooklyn, I would.
Dina: I love my salt baths using the Natierra Himalayan Pink Salts mixed with Dr. Teal’s Pure Epsom Salts for a little bit of magnesium boost. And I do like to have sex. I think that is something we forget about sometimes, as an activity that really is a de-stressor. It is about taking time for yourself because sex is—so many times—the last thing on the list.
And how do you practice self-love at home? Perhaps with skincare…
Dina: Eva got me really into Vitamin E oil and it's basically all I do in the morning.
Eva: And you look really glowy!
Dina: I get dry skin really easily, but I just buy Jason Skin Oil from Whole Foods and apply it every morning. Also, my husband normally lights braided sweetgrass when he wakes up, since he gets up before me. It’s a traditional Native American smudging tool, similar to sage or palo santo, but it’s used in the mornings with the intention to start off with kindness. Mothers used to do light it for their babies and diffuse it over their cribs.
Eva: Despite the fact that I have so many skincare products, I don't actually use that many! I use this Rio Grande Salve from New Mexico a lot because my lips are falling off from being so chapped. That's actually been helping. I also use Thayers Alcohol-Free Cucumber Witch Hazel Toner to wash my face. My friends started a company called Circumference and it's an amazing, sustainable skincare line. They have two masks: the Green Clay Detox Face Mask and the In-Depth Hydration Face Mask. I try to use those once a week. Lots of people use the Everyday Oil for their face, but I can't, even though it’s packed with essential oils. I actually use it on my body; it comes in a really big bottle, so you can just slather it on.
Let’s talk about mindful practices. What are some eco-friendly practices you do on a daily basis?
Eva: Neither one of us is into fast fashion. And we both eat really well and very healthy; we were raised by parents who took us to the farmer's market on a regular basis. Neither of us really eat junk food, we're hyper aware of where products come from and we try to shop locally. We both use reusable everything and we get really upset when people put plastic cutlery in our takeout bags! I think it's about having a really balanced life.
Dina: Now that you said that, it's made me realize how nice it is that we're both on the same page about a lot of that because it is a byproduct of how we grew up. I think it's funny even having to think about these things, because it doesn’t feel mindful. It's just the way we are.
Eva: We both have really integrated approaches to sustainability. On the flipside, it would be nice if I bought fewer groceries that were packaged in less plastic, but I always think there's room for improvement.
Dina: I grew up in California and Arizona, where you have to be so aware of water consumption. We always had to take short showers! Here, I see people running the faucet longer because they say we don't have to worry about it here. But we do!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Words: Dena Silver
Photographer: Angela Datre